Make the Most
of Networking Events
By Debra Fine
Do you dread
receptions, banquets, and other business-related
social events? Does attending another open house
make you want to run inside your own and lock the
door? You’re not alone. Many of us are apprehensive
about these situations, because most of us either
hate entering rooms where we don’t know anyone
or hate spending time with people we don’t
know well. Keeping a conversation going during such
occasions is an ordeal.
Everyone learns the technical skills required for
their jobs, but not everyone places importance on
conversational skills. The ability to talk easily
with anyone is a learned skill, not a personality
trait. Acquiring it will help you develop rapport
with people and leave a positive impression that
lasts longer than an exchange of business cards.
Here are a few tips business professionals can use
to improve their small-talk skills:
• Be the first to say hello!
• Introduce yourself. Act as if you’re
the host and introduce new arrivals to your conversational
partner or partners.
• Smile first and always shake hands when
you meet anyone.
• Take your time during introductions! Make
an extra effort to remember names, and use them
frequently in the conversation.
• Maintain eye contact in any conversation.
Many people in a group of three or more people look
around in the hope that others will maintain eye
contact on our behalf. But people don’t feel
listened to if you’re not looking at them.
• Get somebody to talk about why they’re
attending the event, and you are on your way to
engaging them in conversation.
• Show an interest in every person. The more
interest you show the wiser and attractive you become
• Listen carefully for information that can
keep the conversation going.
• Remember: People want to be with people
who make them feel special, not people who are “special”.
Take responsibility to help people you talk to feel
as if they’re the only person in the room.
• Play the conversation game. When someone
asks, “How’s business?” and “What’s
going on?” Answer with more than “Pretty
good” or “Not much”.
Tell more about yourself so that others can learn
more about you.
• Be careful with business acquaintances.
You wouldn’t want to open a conversation with:
“How’s your job at ________?”
What if that person just got fired or laid off?
Be careful when you’re asking about an acquaintance’s
spouse or special friend; you could regret it.
• Don’t act like you’re an FBI
agent. Questions like “What do you do,”
“Are you married,” “Do you have
children,” and “Where are you from?”
lead to dead-end conversations.
• Be aware of body language. Nervous or ill-at-ease
people make others uncomfortable. Act confident
and comfortable, even when you’re not.
• Be prepared. Spend a few minutes before
an anticipated event preparing to talk easily about
three topics. They will come in handy when you find
yourself in the middle of an awkward moment... or
while seated at a table of eight where everyone
is playing with their food.
• Show an interest in your conversational
partner’s opinion, too. You’re not the
only person who has opinions about funding the space
program or what will happen to the stock market.
• Stop conversation monopolists in their tracks.
If possible, wait for the person to take a breath
or to pause, then break in with a comment about
their topic. Immediately redirect the conversation
in the direction you wish it to go.
• Be prepared with exit lines. You need to
move around and meet others.
• Don’t melt from conversations. Make
a positive impression by shaking hands and saying
goodbye as you leave.
With practice, you can learn how to make the most
of meetings, interviews, and networking events or
of entertaining clients at conventions, trade shows,
and other work-related functions. You’ll learn
to appreciate, rather than dread, networking events.
(Debra Fine is a former engineer living in Denver
who works nationwide as a speaker and trainer presenting
“The Fine Art of Small Talk”. She is
the author of The Fine Art of Small Talk (Hyperion
October 2005). Visit www.DebraFine.com or call 303-721-8266
for additional information.)